Journalist: David Vargas - AngolaOctober 17, 2006
Monday, September 11, 2006 (Visit with Christian Council of Churches in Angola)
On Monday, September 11, and while the rest of the delegation flew to Kuito to visit a mission station of the Evangelical Congregational Church of Angola (IECA) in the center of the country, Sandra and David visited the main office of the Council of Christian Churches of Angola and met with General Secretary, Rev. Luis Nguimbi.
Through Global Ministries, the Disciples of Christ relates to the Council of Christian Churches (CICA) since 1985, and currently provides financial support for the general administration of the Council and its Peace and Reconciliation Program. Rev. Nguimbi affirmed that the church is now the strongest voice in matters of peace in Angola. He is constantly invited to speak on this topic and the next opportunity to do so will be on Wednesday, September 13, when he will make a presentation at the National Congress. The people of Angola trust the church more than they trust the politicians; therefore, it is the responsibility of the Council not to allow politicians to interfere or take advantage of church worships and other religious gatherings. Also, the member churches of the Council do not allow their pastors to actively participate in political matters. CICA encourages pastors to work, not for one political party, but to relate to all regarding the political scene.
In 2007, Angola will probably have their next general election since 1992. Two years ago, the general public was very apprehensive about the idea of having elections because of the violence which occurred in the country around the 1992 election. Now, the country is more open to that idea as a necessary move toward democracy. In preparation for that future, the Council has developed a Training in Social Theology Program for church leaders. In 1992, the pastors preached the election was not a Christian activity and that Christians were not supposed to participate in politics, but rather “devote their energy in preparation for the good things that are awaiting in heaven”; however, the Council is now teaching that “those good things must start here.” The Training in Social Theology is a one year program which covers the following topics: homiletics, advocacy, ethics (especially in regards to the contribution of the pastor to the political scene), and cooperation between church and church, and church and society. Participants in the training program are selected by each of the 20 denominations that are members of the Council.
Among other dreams and plans, the Council would like to organize a Protestant university as a further development of their current Emanuel Seminary; would like to develop partnerships with theological education institutions in other countries, including Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis (where Rev. Nguimbi visited three months ago).
Regarding the topic of church transformation, Rev. Nguimbi congratulated the Disciples of Christ for such an initiative and vision. Reflecting on the challenges that the Angolan Church currently experiences and the areas he perceived where the church needs to be transformed, he expressed deep concern for the rapid expansion of Islam in the country since 2002, when Angola allowed other religious groups to come to the country. In a country where approximately 40% of the population is Catholic and around 39% Protestant, a lot of Angolans are currently leaving their churches to join Islam. According to Rev. Nguimbi, this occurs for three basic reasons: 1) because Islam offers money, supplied by big Arab corporations; 2) because they offer jobs, since they are gradually controlling many of the local businesses; and 3) because they are more liberal than the churches, especially allowing men to have up to five wives.
Among the Christians, Pentecostals are probably the best prepared to face that expansion of Islam. Pentecostals are not affected much because they study and know the Bible. The same may be said about most Southern Baptists. The Congregational Church is not being affected much because they are concentrated in the southern part of the country, far from the area where Islam is expanding.
The Rev. Nguimbi also affirmed that in the economic and political scene of Angola, Islam is becoming the “boss of the country.” Recently, the Council issued a declaration about the influence of Islam in the country and asking the Angolan government to be careful and to awake to that reality. At this moment, the Council is not interested in a dialogue with Islam. “Our priority,” said Rev. Nguimbi, “is now to consolidate the Christian family before engaging in any dialogue. Not only is Islam one of the greatest challenges the church faces at this moment, but one that could cause another war in the country.” At the request of David and Sandra, Rev. Nguimbi sent the following message to the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada, as the Disciples works on the transformation of 1000 congregations.
As Disciples of Christ, your priority of priorities should be evangelism; that is, to keep what Jesus says. That is the church. I appeal to the Disciples of Christ not to abandon Jesus Christ. I encourage the Disciples’ church to be a tool of peace, a tool of evangelism through the preaching of the gospel and development of social work.
Sandra and David also visited the main office of the Social Affairs, Studies and Projects Department of the Evangelical Congregational Church of Angola (IECA). They met with the department’s director, Luis Samacumbi, and some of his staff, including the assistant project coordinator, and the director’s administrative assistant.
The Social Affairs, Studies and Projects Department of IECA received financial assistance from Global Ministries and various European organizations from the United Kingdom (Christian Aid), Norway, and a significant support from ICCO of Holland. The latter pays their monthly office rental, staff salaries and computer system as part of a four-year grant that expires at the end of 2007. An evaluation of the Department’s programs and projects will be conducted by ICCO and the other European funding agencies within the next few months. It was suggested that Global Ministries also be included in the evaluation, as well as representatives from supportive churches in Canada.
The goal of the Department is to gradually move to a new stage of sustainability. A current challenge the Department faces is that funding agencies do not support schools and health clinic projects because they claim those are the responsibility of the government. However, in Angola, the government is not providing those services, and it is unlikely that they will be able to do so in the near future. If the government does not build schools and hospitals, or provide health and educational programs, the Department’s dilemma is then who will provide those services if institutions like IECA do not count on the support of funding agencies to respond to these basic needs.
The Peace, Justice and Reconciliation component of the Department is geared toward helping to prepare the population for the country’s general election process. “It is a big challenge to work toward peace in Angola,” said Luis.
Finally, Luis expressed deep appreciation for Global Ministries’ request for reports on the use of funds sent to IECA designated for the Department’s projects and programs. Having to prepare those reports provides an opportunity for the Department and the Church to document, with transparency and accountability of spirit, all funds received and how they have been utilized.
In the evening, the entire group met again for supper and to share about their two visits that day, and to brainstorm on follow-up activities relative to the transformation upon the return to the United States. The idea of members of the delegation organizing other “Ubuntu” mission trips (including other areas of the world) to expose other members of the Disciples of Christ to transformation experiences in the life of the church outside the United States/Canada was affirmed with enthusiasm. After dinner and follow-up discussion, the days work concluded with devotions led by Ed Morris on the theme of trust, specifically on how each member of the delegation felt the trust of God as part of his/her participation in this “Ubuntu” mission trip to South Africa and Angola.
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